Wednesday, January 9, 2008

An Abomination - the 800 Jewish Settlers of Hebron

Today is Day 14,515 of the Maintenance of the immoral (and illegal) West Bank Settlements and more than 40 years since the start of the immoral (and illegal) occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Micah.6:8 “He has told you,..., Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God

A few weeks ago I received the latest report from B’Tselem entitled “Ghost Town: Israel’s Separation Policy and Forced Eviction of Palestinians from the Center of Hebron”, May 2007.

This report sits on top of the file of to-be-read material but I just cannot overcome the nausea that overwhelms me as I contemplate reading 107 pages about the abomination that is the 800 Jewish residents of Hebron. I did read the first sentence of the Conclusions:

"The constant and grave harm to Palestinians living in the center of Hebron is one of the most extreme manifestations of human rights violations committed by the State of Israel."

Hebron Area H2

This morning I received this message:

Hebron, Area H2 (guest post)
by BZ - - Tuesday, January 8th, 2008
This post is by guest contributor Shira Levine.

Below is a reflection I wrote after traveling last Friday to area H2 of Hebron, the twenty percent of the city that is under direct Israeli control. I toured with Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israelis who served as soldiers in Hebron and are aiming to educate the public on the reality of the situation.

The most frightening part of the area of Hebron that is under Israeli control is the totality of the tragedy – the complete emptiness which serves as evidence that you can erase a presence with enough guns and padlocks. But there are still Palestinians there.

On the few streets that Palestinians are allowed to walk on, they walk with trepidation – brief encounters with a soldier who asks you on the street to open your jacket and show that you’re not wearing a bomb belt must happen countless time a day for the few residents who stayed in this part of the city. The soldier gestures and it’s clear to the pedestrian what he wants. And in the space between the houses that have not been abandoned, or where residents have not been driven out, you see a young women step out to empty trash. She’s wearing a bed sheet as a headscarf. It’s surprising to see her here. It’s surprising that anyone is left.

Palestinians in Hebron seem to live with a low profile, clinging to their houses. Many of the houses are empty. And all are surrounded by trash. Much of it is the trash thrown by Jewish settlers onto the houses of Palestinians, with the clear intention of driving out their neighbors.

Every Palestinian window is covered with chicken wire to prevent rocks being thrown in from the settlers. Since windows have still been bashed in, some Palestinians have enclosed their homes with metal shutters. How dark is it inside those houses?

The darkness. The day was sunny, but the barrenness cast a deep shadow. Row upon row upon row of locked up shop fronts. Like in abandoned American inner-cities. Only these shops weren’t left voluntarily – different streets have different levels of what our guide described as sterilization. After the Baruch Goldstein massacre in 1994 of Palestinian worshippers, there was a legitimate fear of Palestinian retaliation.

As a result, Palestinians were closed in their homes and allowed out only every few days for provisions. Beginning with the meat market, areas of the city began to be emptied and shut. Shop owners there continued paying the rent that, under the complex property laws in Hebron, maintained their right to the land. They were paying rent for stores that were locked up on roads that they still aren’t allowed to walk on. A few settlers have started building in the empty storefronts.

There are no cars, no stores, and even walking is forbidden on the sterilized roads in what used to be a bustling Palestinian city. The former soldiers who give the tours tell horrible confessional stories of the violence and harm that the army did in its efforts to make Hebron a place where 800 Jewish settlers can live.

800 people who don’t want to live with their neighbors. People who send their children to attack Palestinian students returning from school. Videos, filmed by residents with hand held camcorders from the Israeli human rights group Betselem, show pure hatred in fifteen year old settler girls who push down adult Palestinian women teachers.

The settlers’ goal is clear. The Palestinians should leave.

The encroaching emptiness has succeeded. Is it possible to stand in the ruins and imagine a restored market place? Is it possible to imagine that children could bring back milk without walking through empty streets and army check points?

When you’re there, it feels like the end. 15 years ago, if we’d stood in the market and you’d told me that the army and the settlers together would clear out this section of the city of its Palestinian residents, I couldn’t have believed you. I couldn’t have imagined how strikingly different the place would become.

It’s hard to imagine that it still can.

Sadly, George W. Bush, the President of the United States, who is visiting Israel and the Occupied Territories, is not likely to visit Hebron Area H2 and be made aware of the story of the 800 Jewish settlers living there.

Leviticus, Chapter 19

On New Year’s Eve, for perhaps the twentieth year, my wife and I and another couple, our good friends, enjoyed First Night in Boston. One of the four performances we attended was at the Universalist-Unitarian Church. The sounds of the talented guitar player from Mexico reminded me of music of Andre Segovia played by my roommate Bill in college now over 50 years ago. I took out the prayer book in the pew in front of me and read an excerpt from “The Heart of the Torah” Leviticus Chapter 19. Today, I took a look at the entire Chapter. Here is what struck me.

"1. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
2. Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, You shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.
9. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not fully reap the corner of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest.
10. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you collect the [fallen] individual grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger. I am the Lord, your God.
11. You shall not steal. You shall not deny falsely. You shall not lie, one man to his
13. You shall not oppress your fellow. You shall not rob. The hired worker's wage shall not remain with you overnight until morning.
14. You shall not curse a deaf person. You shall not place a stumbling block before a
blind person, and you shall fear your God. I am the Lord.
15. You shall commit no injustice in judgment; you shall not favor a poor person or respect a great man; you shall judge your fellow with righteousness.
16. You shall not go around as a gossipmonger amidst your people. You shall not stand by [the shedding of] your fellow's blood. I am the Lord.
17. You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your fellow, but you shall not bear a sin on his account.
18. You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
23. When you come to the Land and you plant any food tree, you shall surely block its fruit [from use]; it shall be blocked from you [from use] for three years, not to be
24. And in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy, a praise to the Lord.
25. And in the fifth year, you may eat its fruit; [do this, in order] to increase its produce for you. I am the Lord, your God.
32. You shall rise before a venerable person and you shall respect the elderly, and you shall fear your God. I am the Lord.
33. When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not taunt him.
34. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native from among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God.
35. You shall not commit a perversion of justice with measures, weights, or liquid
36. You shall have true scales, true weights, a true ephah, and a true hin. I am the Lord, your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt.
37. You shall observe all My statutes and all My ordinances, and fulfill them. I am the Lord."

The 800 Jewish settlers in Hebron

The American Jewish Committee just released its 2007 survey of American Jewry. I wonder what percentage of American Jews know the story of the 800 Jewish Settlers in Hebron. I wonder what percentage of American Jews are familiar with the above passages from Leviticus 19. I wonder what percentage of American Jews who are familiar with the story and the above passages would condemn the actions of the settlers and the Government of Israel for supporting the settlers.

I wonder what percentage of American Rabbis know the story of the 800 Jewish Settlers in Hebron. I am quite certain that American Rabbis are familiar with these passages. I wonder what percentage of American Rabbis who know the story and are familiar with the passages would condemn the actions of the settlers and the Government of Israel for supporting the settlers.

The Jewish settlers in Hebron are one of the primary reasons I regret that the Great Sanhedrin (the supreme court of the Jewish people) was dissolved about 1700 years ago. One of my fondest dreams is for a Great Sanhedrin to be reinstituted so that the Jewish settlers could be indicted for its violation of Leviticus 19. What might be appropriate would be to frame the accusation as attempted murder of Judaism – the thrusting of a knife into the heart of the Torah.

Elsewhere in the Torah is another piece of the Heart of the Torah- Deuteronomy XVI, 18:20 – “Justice, Justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” Another question to ask is "Where is God?" We would not need to reestablish the Great Sanhedrin if God was observing the Hebron settlers. She would likely disinherit all the 800 and evict them.

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